Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Creative Nonfiction

a.k.a. literary nonfiction
see also fiction; nonfiction

Creative Nonfiction Magazine

(terms describing nonfiction highlighted)

Lee Gutkind, "What is Creative Nonfiction?" Creative Nonfiction Issue #0.

The words “creative” and “nonfiction” describe the form. The word “creative” refers to the use of literary craft, the techniques fiction writers, playwrights, and poets employ to present nonfiction—factually accurate prose about real people and events—in a compelling, vivid, dramatic manner. The goal is to make nonfiction stories read like fiction so that your readers are as enthralled by fact as they are by fantasy.

The word “creative” has been criticized in this context because some people have maintained that being creative means that you pretend or exaggerate or make up facts and embellish details. This is completely incorrect. It is possible to be honest and straightforward and brilliant and creative at the same time.

[article continues to discuss memoir, popularity of creative nonfiction, ascendance in creative writing programs]

Writer's Studio, Duke University, "Creative Non-Fiction: Definition of the Genre."

Creative non-fiction is a relatively recently recognized “genre” that involves writing from personal experience and/or reporting on other peoples’ experiences. The best creative non-fiction work usually involves conducting a considerable amount of research, most often “in the field,” involving oral history interviewing, participant observation, detective / sleuthing work, as well as jumping into new adventures.

The range of possible topics is virtually unlimited, and this type of writing actually has a very long history. Creative nonfiction encompasses memoir writing, biography and autobiography, oral history, and inspired reportage on almost any subject. It involves writing about actual events in your own life and/or others’ lives, conveying your message through the use of literary techniques such as characterization, plot, setting, dialogue, narrative and personal reflection.

Eric LeMay, "What is Creative Nonfiction?" River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative 1 Feb. 2013

Creative nonfiction may be the most useful term . . . not because it’s descriptive (it isn’t), but because its failure to describe sparks one of the more productive questions a writer can ask: What is this thing I’m making?

Answer poem, and you’re on relatively sure footing. Fiction, likewise. But answer creative nonfiction, and suddenly the terra ferma feels less firm. The term slides apart. Creative calls up endless possibility, where fancy and imagination rule, but nonfiction demands obedience to the facts, to observation and documentation, where artistry has little place. Nonfiction jars against creativity, creative against nonfiction.

Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard, Writing Creative Nonfiction. (quoted by LeMay, above)

The genre has become a fertile meeting ground for writers of all kinds. . . . Somehow all their diverse interests converge in a genre that seems expansive enough to connect the self to the larger world of experience.  

from Columbia College Chicago